Chicago prosecutors dropped all charges on Tuesday in their case against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
In a case that has had more plot twists than the “Empire” TV drama, an emergency court hearing was held in Chicago on March 26, after which Smollett’s attorneys announced that “his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him.”
Smollett reported being the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime attack on Jan. 29. On Feb. 21, he was charged with disorderly conduct and for lying to the police, who alleged he had lied about the assault. Smollett was charged on March 8 with 16 felony counts of lying to police, one count for each time he told his story. He was held on $100,000 bail, the amount usually set for manslaughter.
Two brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, who had claimed Smollett paid them to stage the attack, recanted their original story on March 14, raising many questions about why they were never charged in the incident.
Smollett has always maintained his innocence and reiterated that in a statement to reporters outside the courtroom after Tuesday’s hearing.
The Cook County State’s Attorney Office released a statement saying, “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollet’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”
Other than a DUI while he was in college, Smollett has never committed a crime or had any run- ins with police.
The State’s Attorney statement also said, “We stand by the Chicago Police Department’s investigation and our decision to approve charges in this case.” The office gave no explanation for the emergency element of the decision following weeks of inaction after the Osundairo brothers had changed their story.
Patricia Brown Holmes, an attorney for Smollett, said in a press statement, “Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on Jan. 29. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public, causing an inappropriate rush to judgment.”
Smollett told the Chicago police that he had been assaulted by two men who beat him, put a rope around his neck and poured an unknown chemical substance on him as they yelled racial and homophobic slurs. He later told authorities that the two alleged assailants also shouted the pro-Trump phrase, “This is MAGA country!”
The alleged incident outraged many, including prominent black politicians, actors and performers.
But while the case initially was deemed a “possible hate crime” by the CPD, the police department later accused Smollett of staging the attack and paying the Osundairo brothers, one of whom had been a personal trainer for Smollett, to participate.
In what Smollett’s attorneys called a “trial by innuendo,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a Feb. 21 news conference, “This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his [‘Empire’] salary.”
As PGN reported on March 14, Johnson seemed to have invented that narrative about Smollett. No evidence exists that Smollett ever spoke to anyone about wanting more money — not his agent, not any cast members, not any of the producers or the show’s creator, Philadelphian Lee Daniels, who like Smollett is an out gay black man.
On March 7, an investigation into leaks about the case from the CPD. There has been no comment from the Johnson or the CPD about the changing story from the Osundairo brothers or why Johnson circulated the narrative about Smollett wanting a higher salary.
In a news conference after the charges were dropped, Johnson was asked if he thought justice was served. “No,” Johnson said. “I think this city is still owed an apology.”
But it was outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who attacked Smollett repeatedly. Emanuel, who has been castigated for backing the police in their two-year cover-up of the Laquan McDonald shooting, doubled-down on Johnson’s story and said Smollett “did this all in the name of self-promotion.”
There is no evidence that Smollett was seeking more money from “Empire” or that he was unhappy with his storyline.
Emanuel also said, “You have a person using hate-crime laws that are on the books to protect people who are minorities from violence. To then turn around and use those laws to advance your career and your financial reward, is there no decency in this man? This is a whitewash of justice. Where is the accountability in the system?”
Emanuel continued to hold the actor accountable, saying, “Mr. Smollett is still saying he’s innocent. Still running down the Chicago Police Department. How dare he? This is a person now that has been let off scot-free with no sense of culpability.”
Smollett has never made any negative comments about the CPD.
After his arrest, the executive producers of Fox’s “Empire” cut Smollett from the last two episodes of the season. After the charges against the actor were dropped, 20th Century Fox and Fox Entertainment issued a statement: “Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed.”
Smollett spoke to reporters after the court hearing. He said he had “been truthful and consistent on every single level” since he had first reported the alleged incident in January. “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of,” he said. “I am a man of faith and I am a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives, or the movement through a fire like this, I just wouldn’t. I would like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life,” Smollett said. “But make no mistakes: I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.”
Asked for any comment regarding the Chicago Police Department, Smollett’s lawyer, Brown Holmes, told journalists during brief remarks, “We have nothing to say to the police department except to investigate charges and not try their cases in the press … not to jump ahead and utilize the press to convict people before they are tried in a court of law.”
When asked why the charges against Smollett were dropped, First Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Joseph Magats said, “Our priority is violent crimes and the drivers of violence. Jussie Smollett is neither one of those.” Magats also said, “I do not believe he is innocent.”
CNN’s Don Lemon, himself an out gay black man, had an exclusive interview with Smollett’s attorney on his prime-time program after the charges were dismissed. Lemon asked Brown Holmes about rumors that former First Lady Michelle Obama had intervened on Smollett’s behalf. Brown Holmes told Lemon there had been no intervention for Smollett. She said that Smollett was “a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator, as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgment.” While legal pundits suggested that Smollett might sue the CPD for defamation, no such suit has been filed at press time.